As a child I often watched the pained, angry expression on the faces of many grandfatherly men as they nodded off in church while long-winded pastors delivered their scripted sermons and appeals to the future citizens of heaven, firmly determined to encourage young and old alike to deposit money in the collection plates. I wondered then what thoughts knitted the brows of these older gentlemen and nudged them forcefully back to sleep in a public place so early in the morning.
Women who came scurried around like wound-up mice compelled to support the preacher in word, if not in deed. Little did it matter that most of these women had few kind words to offer about the “shepherds” who made every effort to minister to the needs of the well to do or big name families and lived quite well off the contributions made by the sleepy “sheep”. True, some women came infrequently and attributed their absence to not having the proper attire! As I observed it, church was more of a social exercise that an uplifting experience. It was yet another great place to meet one’s friends and to climb the social ladder.
Even today, many a reluctant husband is still dragged to church on Sundays. Not surprisingly, many more men are now also pressured into attending deliverance services and the likes at all odd hours during the week, as such sacrifices become more and more the norm of the day. All of this is not to say that there are not men who willingly and gladly herd themselves to religious gatherings and occasions. The greater percentage of religious leaders continues to be men; women are the larger part of the congregation. What is astounding is that our men, women and children spend an unseeming amount of time in religious activities hoping to ward off attacks from evil spirits and to attract prosperity. But to what avail?
The work of building infrastructure and maintaining a civil Nigerian society remains unattended. The din of religious “fervor”, fanaticism and superstition pulsate in the streets of Nigeria and hearts of too many Nigerians, causing an unprecedented blindness of the mind. The country continues to be exponentially polluted by trash AND unconscionable acts of desperate people; people utterly frustrated by seemingly unending cycles of poverty, pretension, ignorance, oppression, stagnation, bigotry, discrimination, disease, traffic congestion, robberies, senseless murders, escalating numbers of drug addictions, empty politics and titular leaders that have neither vision or direction …all buried under colossal and ever growing mountains of trash in residential neighborhoods.
Fear and confusion have become so deeply lodged within the hearts of too many Nigerian men and women and have bound them in an almost inescapable prison. Few- Christian, Moslem or Animist- speak without the signatory “God bless you” or “In Jesus name” or “God will do it” lest they be thought faithless and godless. Actually, more and more people adopt all three beliefs to ensure that they are adequately covered by the big illusory umbrella in the sky. The Nigerian preacher continues to paint images of an unchanging God when in fact change is inevitable. Nigeria lulls in that foggy region where superstition, magic and religious extremism converge.
Has the God inherited from Christianity and Islam lost his power to save and bless? Do the indigenous gods now work their magic erratically like N.E.P.A in both function and use? More than ever, people who ordinarily function with energy and clarity of thought are stagnated in the cesspool of spiritual wails and prayerless prayers forgetting that the life we have to live is in the here and now. One can only be grateful that not everyone is wrapped in this seemingly universal blanket of religious fog. Perhaps those who subscribe to reason and logic will prevail. Perhaps the alternative to madness is humanism.
Humanism takes what is good from all sources; invites us to the door to endless opportunities and creativity through which we can take our lives into our own hands and work to lessen the true ills of this earth – poverty, war, disease, oppression and prejudice. Humanism motivates us to look at each other as opposed to looking over each other; It frees us to provide opportunities that sustain our young such that we will live worthy lives for ourselves and others.