How Religion (Theodicy) Has Created Problems For Nigeria, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
Prayer and worship cannot build a nation. God is not in the business of building roads, hospitals, schools. We can only develop as a nation through effort, determined action, a good law enforcement and legal system, human rights and a good work ethic.
How come we have so much moral deficit as a people, yet we are so religious? Why are the most religious countries in the world the poorest? Religion is one of the rocks in our pockets, the millstone on our necks and one of the reasons why we have overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world.
What Is Religion?
The Oxford dictionary defines religion as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Since the beginning of man, he has found meaning in his own existence by setting up symbols, beliefs, cultural memes that connect him to a higher being and an order of existence. Man created religion as a complex set of narratives, aimed at explaining the origin and meaning of life and the universe he inhabits. For every religion, this complex set of narratives includes doctrines, rituals and activities designed to help adherents connect to a higher power and accomplish the will of that being. Emphases are usually laid on doctrinal observance, a virtuous and upright life. Failure to adhere to these is usually accompanied by warnings of punishing consequences in this life and the next.
Nigeria is the foremost acceptor of rabid pentecostalism in the world, and a growing centre of Jihadism on the continent and in the world outside the Middle East. How did that happen to us and why? Because we accepted religion without spirituality. Again, the Oxford dictionary defines spirituality as the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul, as opposed to material or physical things. By definition, spirituality is personal, while religion is collective. Spirituality is observance in worship, whereas religion is ritualistic in worship. Spirituality is encountered, religion is enforced.
America’s brand of Christianity preaches prosperity in the world on the bedrock of strong Protestant Ethics, which are values based on hard work, talent, and thrift in the provision of livelihood. Unfortunately, such core values in our own traditions have been abandoned.
The Nigerian does not understand that manipulative people, seeking power, will use religion, ethnicity, class, politics or any tool available to them, to control, dominate and dispossessed others for their selfish benefits. Religion is the easiest to use in manipulating people because faith and reason does not mix well. A cursory look at Nigeria’s decline will reveal a correlation between religiosity and poverty. Our poverty rate started climbing when Pentecostals and Sunni zealots took control of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria. Worldwide, increasing religiosity is associated with a corresponding increase in poverty. The only exception is the United States and there is a reason for that as would be elucidated upon shortly. The richest countries in the world are the least religious, while the poorest countries are the most religious. Why is that? The answer lies in religious fatalism, which teaches people that they are not responsible for all that happens to them and others in the world. It teaches them to accept their fates and look forward to better lives in heaven. Of course that makes sense when you are poor, as hope becomes your only true succour.
Religious fatalism is a very useful tool in the hands of corrupt, venal, avaricious, insensitive leaders, rulers and politicians. Putting every incapacity at God’s doorstep is a convenient argument to make because they do not want people to look into why bad things happen. The governor of Zamfara once told us that the outbreak of Meningitis in his State was caused by the sins of the people, which had become too much. That patent silliness came from a man alleged to have diverted his State’s resources to himself. He said that to escape culpability and reinforce in the minds of Zamfara people that the disaster was not preventable, so they could accept it in mute resignation. And they did! It can be argued that theodicy – “the vindication of divine providence in view of the existence of evil” – is a logical consequence of monotheistic belief systems. Why? If God is truly omnipotent, everything (good or bad) that happens and every human condition can be attributed to God’s will. To fatalists, choice has no play in the human condition. God can and will do everything in his time. If we desire change, we do not need to work for it because only prayer can do it. We have to take our problems, including everything we can fix, to God in prayer. Like all theodicies, it discourages people from trying to stop the evils they can change. Nigerian leaders have exploited this devastatingly to great effect.
Why did the West which brought Christianity to us develop and we have not? They stopped being fatalistic long before they brought the religion to us. They believe in their capacity to change their environment, in their ability to alter their present condition positively and to improve their lot through painstaking effort. If the poorest countries are the most religious, why is the United States of America rich? America is the most religious and the most prosperous nation on earth. How did that happen? The answer lies in America’s foundation and brand of religion. America’s brand of Christianity preaches prosperity in the world on the bedrock of strong Protestant Ethics, which are values based on hard work, talent, and thrift in the provision of livelihood. Unfortunately, such core values in our own traditions have been abandoned. The form of prosperity gospel being preached in Nigeria and, indeed the rest of Africa, is: wealth without work. Religion as it is practiced in Nigeria today, is to control the mind of the gullible and to fleece the poor.
Jihadism has found a recruiting ground in Nigeria because Imams seek power and control to remain relevant and the politicians who seek their endorsement, exploit the hearts and minds of the poor to achieve their aims. They recruit and teach zealots to commit suicide and suffer great pains to further their evil political agenda.
Christianity alone is not responsible for our woes. Since the Iranian revolution, Sunnis have gone on steroids to halt the growth of the Ahmadis and Shi’ites in Nigeria. The result is Jihadi Islam. Jihadism has found a recruiting ground in Nigeria because Imams seek power and control to remain relevant and the politicians who seek their endorsement, exploit the hearts and minds of the poor to achieve their aims. They recruit and teach zealots to commit suicide and suffer great pains to further their evil political agenda. They justify poverty and disguise it as asceticism to the poor by berating ambition, confidence, education and the pursuit of success and wealth as worldliness, greed and evil that will lead to unrighteousness, while they and their children acquire what they teach the poor to abandon.
Every state function starts with a prayer and officials laden with iniquities enough to warrant the death penalty often preside. Every office opens with a prayer, yet all there commit unimaginable fraud and engage in corrupt practices that are preached against in their religion, before the day ends. Every stall in the market opens with a prayer, yet weights and measures are heavily altered, fake and harmful products are offered to consumers. Prayer and worship cannot build a nation. God is not in the business of building roads, hospitals, schools. We can only develop as a nation through effort, determined action, a good law enforcement and legal system, human rights and a good work ethic.