Does Religion Necessarily Liberate?

by Jibril Sado

A university undergraduate in Nigeria was asked in a Christian Religious Studies test to “critically examine the lifestyle of Jesus Christ from age 12 to 33”. Being what is known in Nigeria as a Scripture Union or SU Christian, the young man wrote in his answer booklet, “Who am I? Who am I to critically examine the lifestyle of my Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ? I would rather critically examine the lifestyle of his humble servant, Peter”. He went ahead to examine the lifestyle of Peter rather than that of Jesus Christ. In return, the examiner remarked, “who am I to assess your critical examination of the lifestyle of his humble servant, Peter? I rather score you a critical zero”. How true this story is I cannot attest to but as funny and ludicrous as it sounds it carries a lot of truism about our naivety about and the ridiculous extent to which religion is regarded side by side other aspects of our lives in this Nigeria and much of the under-developed world today.

In Lagos recently, I witnessed a group of armed mobile policemen guarding a clergyman kick and punch and whip a crowd of adherents as they (adherents) jostled to get close to the clergyman, the general overseer of their church, who had paid their parish a visit. And the overseer only flashed a smile that was as condescending and mischievous as it was wry as he was chauffeured away. As walked on, I kept asking myself, what Jesus would have done in such circumstance. Turn away and climb his donkey with a wry smile on his face like that overseer or chastise those policemen? Would Jesus have preferred to be so physically detached from his followers? But the answer to that question is exactly what the so-called religious leaders in Nigeria today who are more like spiritual despots and feudal lords do by exploiting the gullibility of followers through the illogical practice where followers pay heavily to worship God while the leaders are paid to worship the same God.

In Nigeria today, laziness and other such less-than-moral attitudes even by religious consideration, are being increasingly encouraged in the name of religion. How else do you describe the practice whereby adherents are made to believe that all their problems – physical, physiological, economic or intellectual – are basically spiritual and that only prayers and such religious rites will keep the enemies and perpetrators of such evil away? Is that not a way of making people ultra-reliant on the omnipotency of religion while neglecting the all too germane issue of personal growth and development? How can religion uplift and liberate when you tacitly lead an adherent to believe that people around him are in the most, his enemies and the cause of his misfortunes? When you convince and emphasize to a man that his problems are the handiwork of some real or imagined enemies how does that engender peace and love?

I do spirituality but for a kaleidoscope of reasons I find religion confusing, confining, limiting, and in a lot of ways, contradictory. I believe in the existence somewhere of a supreme being whom we may choose to call God, Allah or Jehovah. Otherwise I will sooner believe that a camel will indeed pass through the eye of that proverbial needle than accept the fact that the sky and clouds above and other such awe-inspiring and humanly inexplicable phenomena are not the creation of such a Master Architect. But then, that is about where it all ends. I do not believe that there exists a God so vengeful that we treat one another with dignity and respect just so we may avoid His wrath. No. I find that very disrespectful to Him. It is too patronizing; I do not believe in the existence of a God so powerful that you can run to Him when earthly problems threaten to overwhelm you only for you to have to kill and maim in His name because He has suddenly become so impotent and incapable of defending Himself and His honour; I disagree that there is a God whose idea of wrong is mirrored in what punishment you can expect from Him rather than how much you have allowed some rather Masonic doctrine to limit how positively you can impact the lives of others around you no matter their leaning in faith; I reject the idea of a God who is so insensitive that He would rather you spend much of your productive life in some place warbling some tune rather than seeking practical solutions to the all-too-practical life issues you must deal with; Above all, I do not believe in a God so meddlesome and dictatorial that you don’t have the freewill to choose how you want to live especially how to relate with others and how to grow intellectually, economically and what-ever-ly as an individual and as a collective.

I cringe and shudder for instance, to think that by certain religious account or definition, there is a chance that the saintly Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu – Mother Teresa to all of us – who so admirably epitomized kindness and altruism might end up in some conflagration somewhere in the clouds above while some of us so lacking in such moral fundamentals as love and compassion will not, just because unlike her, we have held on to certain doctrine as a part of our belief in a supreme being. I reject the notion of there being a specific path to doing good and going to that much vaunted heaven, and that religiosity or being religious is that only way. I ask anyone who confronts me with the superiority of his religion over any other, ‘what happens if you wake up one day here or there to discover that all you have ever held to be true about your religion and that of others is not actually the way it seems now?’ More often than not, I get the answer, ‘that is faith for you’.

But I believe there is an avenue, if you will, a midpoint or safety valve you can adopt with less anxiety as it affords you the opportunity to live meaningfully by demonstrating the fact that the only divine imperatives are such higher values like love, trust, compassion, etc, while being able to grow in other spheres of your life. It is my belief that if Islam came with Mohammed and Christianity came with Jesus Christ, then we can live in peace and harmony and develop all-round without all the religiosity that jumbles our reasoning today. I rationalize my stance in the belief that some of the most revered men in faith were first and foremost highly successful merchants, carpenters, shepherds and what have you, who did not allow their faith interfere with their personal development in other spheres of life. Muslims, Jews and Christians all subscribe to Moses/Musa, Abraham/Ibrahim as the rafters of their faith and I argue that these figures, by all rational accounts were neither Christians nor Muslims. And they were very likely not Jews either. Yet they managed to lead – whether it was by their consciousness of a supreme being or not – a life of great love and compassion for everyone while not being hindered in their quest for personal socio-economic development.

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NWAFORCHIKANELSON October 4, 2007 - 12:55 am

You have given us an explicit view of the expliotative parlance attached to religion in Nigeria and which has not contributed to the intellectual growth of the ordinary man who believes being pious is semblance to being poor.

Thank you and keep the wheels going because you are a quintessential per excellence

Anonymous August 8, 2007 - 11:29 am

I totally disagree with comment #8 and #7. The problemwith religion is as much with dogma as it is with people the holy books as the fountain and foundation of religion, they are the reference point of anything religious and if they form the evidence of a strong argument against religion, then just as well. The truth is certain formof unreasonability aside, most actions that neutrals, free thinkers and agnostics, atheist and what have you pick on in religious peopleare sanctioned by religion as reflected in holy books. Kudos to this writer.

Babatunde Oni August 6, 2007 - 8:15 am

wonderful write-up, but rather too judgemental

Noni August 4, 2007 - 6:10 am

I agree with thewriter (comment #5). The problem in religion has often been with people, not theology and dogma. For anyone who hasn't read much outside of the "Holy Books" (particularly the philosophical and metaphysical writings), I don't think they can truly grasp the depth to which religious thinking and rationale operates outside of their zone. Interestingly, agnostics and atheists are just as fundamentalist as the religious people they criticise. Ironic? I think not.

Anonymous August 1, 2007 - 1:12 pm

Right on point. I enjoyed reading it.

thewriter July 28, 2007 - 10:50 am

Well put together! But I disagree that religion is the problem. The problem lies more with people, their world views, knowledge, intellect, understanding and interpretation of their religions. And if their religion is failing them, perhaps its time to go shopping for a new one.

The problem with most people today is they look around, see people of religion messing up and conclude the only solution is to get rid of religion altogether. Are the divine impratives of love, trust, compassion, tolerance, etc, not preached by this very religions?

CreditcardPlayer July 26, 2007 - 11:42 pm

Really saturated and frank article. I support the point that religion bounds progressive thought and ignores natural-based intentions.

Anonymous July 25, 2007 - 8:41 pm

Good comments.What sort of God teaches selective love or idleness?

Reply July 25, 2007 - 12:31 pm

You are right with your points because the 'religious' clergies of the "Latter-Days" have gone gaga. I agree with your statement thus: ‘what happens if you wake up one day here or there to discover that all you have ever held to be true about your religion and that of others is not actually the way it seems now?’ " And because of this I have even stopped going to church but I am a christian. I like your article. More greese to your brain………

angela george July 25, 2007 - 12:26 pm

so very true,sometimes it is too easy to fall on instead of doing something about the situation by empowering yourself.


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