Humankind and religion: Matters arising
Human acculturation and civilization have been shaped for hundreds of thousands of years. The curation process ensures that conformity to social order is more natural to human acculturation than to be a pariah. This conformity is a subtle social pressure. This social pressure is what can make exceptionally brilliant people like Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for example, to be assertively religious yet clinically professorial. Very few, the likes of Prof. Wole Soyinka and Fela Anikulapo Kuti (whose father was a Reverend) have the guts to buck social pressure and proudly remain a pariah. Or how else can one explain why a smart scientist, who studies and makes a living in astrophysics, could subscribe to the tale that the Garden of Eden was a place where heaven was so close to the earth; where humans, God and the angels had free and happy physical association before the devil (also a creation of God) caused disaffection that made God to finally get mad with humans. Indeed, there is a plethora of assumptions cloaked in religion garb that would remain subject of debate till eternity.
My Submission: Religion is not a necessity for humankind; it is a positive invaluable cultural agent. It is a means, not an end. In my estimation, more than the religion we practice, Death and X are the two biggest influences and moderators of human acculturation. X being the big unknown. The accountability to each other, the piety we display, the worship of God in whatever form, all boil down to the fear of death and the fear of X. Eliminate one of these two factors and human social order on earth today will be radically different. Imagine if humans do not die or if we really know what is unknown.
Death is a reality. X is unknown. All people, the world over, attempt various ways to address X, including philosophical, scientific and religion means. Pity that as with many other things, the African way is indolent. How else can one describe the counterproductive over religiosity across African cities. It is pitiful to say the least.
Unfortunately, as our religiosity increases our value system takes a dive. What an utterly negative correlation. No sane society should continue such a trajectory. If you go to the streets of London, Paris, New York, etc., you will see public transport buses plastered with advertisements of various forms of business services. Please visit my beloved streets of Lagos, you will find public transport buses littered with posters of hip-hop and fuji musicians competing for space with posters of various pastors advertising unending miracle nights. Religion and entertainment are the two thriving businesses for the poor masses of Nigeria. I am sorry but Nigerian masses are in for a long ride!
Owing to the irresponsible nature of our government, our major roads are filled with beggars, many of them handicap. These miracle advertising pastors, prophets, daddy GOs, etc. do not target this population in need of obvious miracles. Instead, they market their merchandise to susceptible poor masses who are manipulated to part with their meager earnings while they ride private jets. Other than Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, African leaders are largely inept when it comes to devising policies to protect vulnerable masses from the clutches of religion merchants. Can you blame them? They are a product of and a beneficiary of the perverted religious system; they are terribly compromised.
In Rwanda, no one is allowed to start a church or mosque without having a degree in theology. Why should any sane government allow pastors to be selling to their congregations the “phone number to heaven”, on national TV. Who is the carrier of the network to heaven? AT&T or MTN? Or sending “miracle alert money” to people’s accounts or asking them to donate their lands to churches privately owned and controlled only by daddy GOs. These shenanigans must stop at some point.
Fear, need and social pressure are the three main reasons people troop to religion. I have earlier addressed social pressure. Need is more heavily correlated to religiosity than Fear. Everyone prays for his/her needs to be met. The reality though is that people’s needs will be met through good governance and individual responsibility, not prayers. Imagine the stunt created by Nigeria’s former president Yakubu Gowon (whom I love dearly for his humility) tagged “Nigeria Prays”. Well, they have been praying since 1996; unfortunately, Nigeria has remained poorer in value and governance. In other sane climes, former presidents initiate and solicit fundings for policy institutes to enrich governance, not prayer group. God, I have one prayer – please give us performing and responsible governments across Africa.
Fear – The religious merchants know how to stow fear in the minds of their congregations to draw them in and tie them down. We are constantly reminded that evil lucks around everywhere you turn. Your neighbor does not want your progress, your coworkers are preoccupied with your downfall, your siblings are jealous of your hardly noticeable progress, the sins committed by your previous generations loom large like an albatross on your neck… Heck! They even have prayer points for all these vituperations. All to what end? Keep the poor congregations in “prayer bondage”. The interesting but untold truth is, when people are in real fearful mode, many of the so-called religious people secretly engage in other means perceived to have stronger metaphysical potency than religion, including traditional mythos, cultism, violence, etc. Oh God I pray thy will be done on earth, but not as it is in heaven!
Kudos must be given to Raji Fashola, despite the stiff resistance he faced, for having the guts to control noise pollution from overpopulated religious centers in residential areas while he was the governor of Lagos. Government cannot be complacent when there is need to protect vulnerable citizens.
Just in case I am not direct enough, what I am saying is simple – it is all the fault of our government. Check it out, all countries where citizens’ needs are largely met exhibit less religiosity. I have asked a few Christians in Canada and the US if they speak in tongue. “What is that?”, is usually their responses. In Nigeria even runs girls will pray in tongue before leaving the house so that market go dey! The one that guts me is the new trend where some Muslims are now showcasing the same manner of church miracles in the mosque where their congregations will fall and roll endlessly on the floor. What a caricature! But can you blame them? They see that one side is feeding too fat on a low hanging fruit deception and getting away without any penalty. Wake up, Nigerian government, before it’s too late.
Let’s get back to the headline topic and wrap this up – why is religion not a necessity for humankind? The evidence thus far shows that humankind can exist, and has in fact existed, without religion.
Death provides at least a transient finality to our existence as humans. It serves as a control, a form of regulator for humans’ excesses. X on the other hand remains unknown and, in my opinion, shall remain so and continue to puzzle humans. I know religion is personal and can be deeply emotional. The intent of this piece is to stoke some reawakening in our governments across Africa, Nigeria in particular.
Government must be alive to its responsibility to protect its citizens from manipulation and lessen the unabated extreme religiosity taking hold across Africa which in truth has not translated to any value improvement in our societies or provided us any competitive advantage over humankinds from other continents of the world. A civilized society must embrace Religion, Philosophy, and Science. Unfortunately, lazy Africa is sitting on a one-legged stool and the imbalance is obvious and palpable. May the black race be delivered – somebody shout Hallelujah! Alu Akbar!! Eri Wo Yah!!!
Abolore Ige is a public affairs analyst.
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