The Next Einsteins and The Expressway Churches

by Damola Awoyokun

Albert Einstein’s eminent successor, Stephen Hawking on May 11 began a journey to South Africa on an initiative to find African Einsteins through an Institute For Mathematical Sciences based in South Africa. Said Hawking, ‘the world of science needs Africa’s brilliant talents, and I look forward to meeting young Einsteins from Africa in the near future.’

Case 1: In South Africa between the N1 expressway linking Johannesburg, the commercial capital with Pretoria, the political centre is the Silicon Valley of the telecom and computer giants. South Africa is home to African headquarters of many of these world corporations. Between Lagos the commercial capital and Ibadan is home to the fastest growing blue-chip corporations in Nigeria: the expressway churches.

Case 2: A 24-year-old graduate with second-class upper was diagnosed with breast cancer. She informed her mother who then told her church prophet. Prayers, fasting, vigils, alms giving, holy mount pilgrimages were immediately ordered. Her daughter was never allowed to go back to UCH for chemotherapy that was sufficient since the cancer was still very young. The man of God strongly objected since it meant the mum was doubting the power of the Almighty. It was when the girl’s breasts turned into a rotten pair of plantains that she was returned to hospital and, died. While her body was still warm in the grave, the man of God visited the bereaved family, prayed for them and said the death was God’s will, if not it won’t have happened.’ If I were God, I would spit on that prayer and damn him for murder.

Case 3: Mid-nineties, in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, the number of weekly religious meet leapt from 19 to 120. Every evening, to get a free class where you can quietly study was tough. When you get one, be assured that preachers would soon barge in to dismiss studying as irrelevant, it’s eternal life that counts, that the world would soon end as there is now abundant fresh evidence; or: that there is a big man of God from Lagos in the sports stadium working miracles, casting out spirits of cultism, poverty, indecent dressing or curing AIDS; or that failure in exam is a spiritual attack from home which needs spiritual defence, you must not miss your blessing time at the sports centre. It was not surprising when last year in that same university some students that supposed to be doing their exams locked themselves inside Tonkere forest nearby awaiting Rapture.

The problem of the expressway churches in every nook and cranny of the country is not essentially in their mushrooming, it is in the way they barge into our minds and corrode the roots of our thinking with what they preach. They start with fear. And fear like HIV is very polite and diplomatic, its effectiveness is in being unassuming, going on easy till it shatters your immune system and leaves you gullible to all sorts of senseless teachings and practices. ‘Come and thank God for your life, many slept yesterday, but couldn’t wake up today, that you woke up is not your doing but… or: ‘ I know one man who did not pay his tithe for only one month his son became ill, he sold land and properties to pay hospital bills, he son still died.’ Or ‘repent now, tomorrow may be too late.’ Without enacting fear and promoting its negativity as a normal state of mind – fear of eternity, of hunger, of curses, of tomorrow, fear of enemies, real or imagined, fear of God – no religion would prosper. Fear is after all, the masterpiece of the evil one.

In the north, a shepherd boy with a small stick (saanda) can order around thousands of cows with big-horns on their heads like PhDs. In the expressway churches, anybody with a pocketsize Gideon bible in the hand can tell tens of thousand of ‘educated’ people that 2+2 = 13 has been revealed as the truth, they will jumped up and scream Ameeen and begin to dance around! Reason and scientific thinking are no longer a matter of fact. Instead of the unrestricted and diligent exercise of the intellect to problems, we are told solution is in praying for divine intervention, we are told we are in end times and so earthquakes, cyclones, AIDS are fated. We can do nothing. Weirdly, Christianity no longer calls itself a religion, it is a way of life. So every time on any day you turn on your TV or radio, in the buses, in the offices, markets, on the Internet, a preacher is there retailing some messages or emails of mental bacteria. Little wonder there is an outbreak of mediocrity all over the country. Whereas in serious countries, they are building heavens and making lives better for their citizens, in Nigeria we are bringing about hell rationalising it as why we have to go to heaven.

Ask kids what they want to be in the future; many are now answering ‘pastors.’ Why? ‘To do miracles and save lives.’ Not the miracle of space technology or medical saving of lives. It is a la the expressway jamborees. One pastor justified September 11 saying the World Trade Centre was like the biblical Tower of Babel (human attempts to reach the place of God.) God ‘had to’ destroy it. Other stupidity aside, but why are the lofty achievements of human thought seen as an affront on the supremacy of a most high God? The remarkable solar eclipse of 2 years ago happened at the day and hour it was predicted to happen for 4 minutes 45 seconds by instruments of science and technology. For over 2000 years now Jesus had failed to come as constantly predicted by the bible and men of God yet a lot of quality time, energies and resources are devoted uselessly to this otherwise eclipse of reason. Meanwhile the next solar eclipse’s date, hour and minute has been predicted 25 years in advance. It will happen. So which should merit our trust, thinking or faith?

Young African minds eager to be the next Einstein or Hawking must start by rejecting their being made sheep that the religions constantly find fulfilment in doing. Sheep is an animal with a challenging intellectual deficit. Have you seen how they cross busy roads? Young minds should aspire to be goats. A goat believes in itself. It is smart. It does not take no for an answer that is why it always seem constantly disobeying. It is never satisfied with the status quo. Through the Enlightenment, Europe began to see progress when they squashed the prevailing grip of religion over their minds. Eric Hobsbawm, a British Jewish historian, said Jews began to make startling impacts in all disciplines after the 18th century when they unchained themselves from the application of Moses laws to the very last details of their lives. The laws clogged their minds and imagination, shutting them off from the world. So their startling achievements consist not in being God’s chosen people but in conscious rejection of that identity.

Einstein said of his deep religious childhood: ‘through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of that experience…’ What a genuine goat.

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Jacob Whesu August 25, 2008 - 12:38 pm

Damola, I am the ‘greatest fan’ of your article. I have read reactions to it. I endorsed everything you wrote therein. I have sent both soft and hard copy of this article to friends who care to read it and more than 90% of those I sent endorsed your view without reservations. This article is the best I have read in more than one year. Please keep t up!

yabo June 24, 2008 - 6:29 am

Hey Damola, great write up man. Read most of the reactions to this thoughtful piece in the Guardian. Well I expected a ‘Jihad’ was going to be pronounced on you as soon as this piece hit the print. But looks like the Christian warriors are not impressed by the lure of a divine promise of 75 virgins in paradise. So you can be sure not to be on the run like Rushdie or sleep with one eye open like the swedish cartonists Lar Viks. Great piece, I kept reading this and my thoughts flashed to your article the other day when I found myself in a rickety and mercury-hot Lagos bus. The preacher kept repeating that if we dont repent from our sins, we risk going to hell. I kept wondering what this “hell” is like. Could it be worse than the bus where all of us were cramped like sardines? I am really going to crack soon cos all around my house are churches that are engaged in night vigil throughout the week. Getting a normal night sleep is indeed an ordeal. Thanks for this piece man. There is indeed a lot of absurdies going on in this country that I often wonder if being born here is an illuck.


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