Life’s Journey Beyond Religion: The Nigerian Perspective

(By Nweke Stephen Chukwunwike)

We often find ourselves transferring our duties to the Creator all in the name of spirituality. People no longer think with their brain! We have forgotten that why the Creator endowed us with certain gifts and abilities is for us to put them into proper use. But religion which should be a liberative force now becomes an imprisonment of the will for some persons, an opium as Karl Marx puts it. Religion has now brainwashed a good number of Africans nay Nigerians into believing that God has to come down from heaven to do everything for us.

WE now rarely hear preachers talk about holiness and righteousness. Most of what we get from the pulpit is endless preaching about miracles, and the get-rich quick syndrome. We go to church every Sunday and in Nigeria, everyday. Some ministers of God’s word have taken advantage of the poverty level in the country, thus they have hoodwinked some people into believing that they just have to fold their hands and watch miracles happen. People are now blinded by religion!

  Everything is now attributed to religion, and human effort suffers neglect. It is a common sight in Nigeria to see a student who has an examination to write spending most of his time in the church or mosque praying. His/her studies are being relegated, and prayer instead of proper studies now becomes a prerequisite for passing examinations. The petty trader who hawks banana goes into the church and spends seven out of 12 working hours praying to God to make him a Mark Elliot Zuckerberg – the 28-year-old CEO of the social network site Facebook or our own Aliko Dangote; yet he is not ready to put in his human effort.

  We often find ourselves transferring our duties to the Creator all in the name of spirituality. People no longer think with their brain! We have forgotten that why the Creator endowed us with certain gifts and abilities is for us to put them into proper use. But religion which should be a liberative force now becomes an imprisonment of the will for some persons, an opium as Karl Marx puts it. Religion has now brainwashed a good number of Africans nay Nigerians into believing that God has to come down from heaven to do everything for us.

  The global index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012 report shows that 59 per cent of the world’s population are religious, 23 per cent non-religious and 13 per cent are atheists. It also shows that in Africa, 89 per cent are religious, seven per cent non-religious and two per cent atheists. Nigeria paints a clear picture of a very religious country with a “glaring” 93 per cent religious population, six per cent non-religious and one per cent atheist. I dare say “glaring” because these generically religious 93 per cent include the ritualists, sea pirates, Boko Haramists, 419ers, violent robbers, kidnappers, hard drug and human traffickers, fake drug merchants, illegal bunkerers, oil subsidy scammers, political assassins, election riggers, rapists and cultists, their suppliers, direct dependants, indirect beneficiaries and other auxiliaries who claim to be religious because they believe in God, praise and worship Him with their lips! But if being religious is strictly defined as Godly living towards eternal happiness, many in these sub-groups would be classified as either “irreligious” or “atheists” but that is a discussion for another day.

  While it is not my intention to go into any esoteric discussion on faith for which I am not even competent, the focus of our discussion is to truly x-ray the journey of our lives and to know how it can be embarked on with or without “religion” taking prominence.

  The answer to the question as to why Nigerians are the most religious in the world is not far-fetched. The global index highlighted the features of religiosity thus, “Religiosity is higher among the poor, as people in bottom income groups are 17 per cent more religious than those in the top income group”. Therefore, in a country where majority of its citizens live below 2 dollar per day, crime and religion present themselves as ready succours. The hard-hearted who cannot bear it resorts to crime while the rest flies to religion as a protection. From the foregoing, one doesn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand the correlation between poverty and today’s high turnout in churches in our country. As the level of turnout in churches in the Western world is falling as a result of improved economy and technological advancement, that of our country is rising whether it is because of a genuine search for God or because of a restless search for miracles as the last option is what I do not know though I will rank the majority in the latter. But the ugly story is that some religious leaders now use this as an opportunity to exploit the poor masses. They now violently aspire to the leadership of the church not because of a desire to serve God but because it is now an avenue to affluence and flamboyance. The widow who sells oranges by the road side and has four children to cater for, takes a portion of her earnings to the church as her tithe and the Pastor acquires a private jet with the money while the woman continues to wallow in poverty. The high tuition fee in most of the church owned educational institutions is another evidence of this religious exploitation.

   Another big cause why religion is now seen as a succour is illiteracy. In a country where according to Oby Ezekwesili in her speech at the 42nd convocation ceremony of UNN on January 26, 2013, only 4.3 per cent of our youthful generation has an opportunity for university education; a percentage that does not in any way compare favourably with Chile’s 37.5 per cent or Singapore’s 33.7 per cent, it will not be surprising to see a young religious person take up arms and begin to harm and kill people in the name of religion. Illiteracy breeds ignorance. I proffer that if the majority of our religiously exploited population are literates then the extent of the exploitation would be less.

  Lawlessness and corruption is another factor that is worthy of mention because if our resources are properly channelled and the citizens are duly protected by the law of the land, some persons who run to church for legal succour would not be doing so. It is only in Nigeria that a “Man of God” will burn a worshipper to death and the people are brainwashed to close their mouths for fear of being struck down by the Creator. Who told you that God strikes people for revealing the truth?

  God is God and will always remain God. What is important at the end of all this is your love for God. This idea of people going to church every morning and night happens only in our country. A British athlete knows that for him to win a sports competition, he needs to engage in a regime of rigorous training, he/she knows that for him to own a home, he needs to approach a bank for a mortgage, he or she doesn’t pray to be promoted in his/her job because he/she knows that in due time and in transparency it will be done.

  We should be able to make a clear distinction between spirituality and religiosity; we must understand as C.P Varkey puts it in his book “Be human, be Holy” that spirituality is a vision of life with a system of values, ideals and goals that orient and guide one’s life. It is the result of a personal experience of God, of the human and of the world. On the other hand, religiosity is excessive adherence to the external practices of religion. Your spirituality, therefore, is not weighed by the number of hours spent in the Church or Mosque. It is a system of values which has been internalised through a personal experience of God. These values and your love for God should reflect in your daily living as a Christian or Muslim, it must be evidenced through justice, fairness and equity in your dealings with your fellow man.

   Finally, God was not foolish when He gave you the brain. The brain on its own does not think; we think with the brain. We have forgotten that our natural attributes or talents could be wastes if we do not augment them with appropriate training. God cannot bless you when you fold your hands and refuse to use your brain effectively. You can pray from now till thy kingdom come; you can attend all religious congresses. Your change will come only when you learn to use your brain and your hands. You keep praying and disturbing God unnecessarily to bless you but I am asking “where is the work of your hands that He has promised to bless?

• Chukwunwike, a writer and a speaker, wrote from the Missionary Society of St. Paul Formation House, Iperu-Remo, Ogun State.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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