Religion from the African perspective
By Anthony Akinola
Two athletes, one African and one British, were interviewed after the successful conclusion of their respective events. The African who had won an event attributed her success to the grace of God. “He touched my limbs, I could not have done it without him.” The British athlete, on the other hand, gave substantial credit to her coach as she attributed her success to a regime of rigorous training.
Of course, glory must be given to God for all we are able to achieve as mortal human beings. There are certain things we are never going to achieve in life either because we are too tall or too short! The natural attributes which propel us to unimaginable heights can hardly be purchased in the cosmetic market. However, our natural attributes or talents could be a waste if not augmented by appropriate training. In short, there is something to be celebrated in the explanations both athletes attributed to their individual successes.
Those of us exposed to cultures other than our own have exciting stories about the gulf of differences in cultures. The British man or woman may be quite happy to say “Happy New Year” to you but cannot understand why you need to keep praying for what you would like God to do for them in the New Year. He or she knows, for instance, that to own a home one would have to approach a bank for a mortgage!
There is this temptation on my part to assume or conclude that the British, for instance, may be more rational than the Nigerian. This writer is hardly the most rational of human beings, so there is an element of self-criticism here! Even among the British who go to church there is hardly the punctuation of every conceivable sentence with “in Jesus name” as is common among Nigerian Christians. They believe that a lot of problems can be resolved without having to involve Jesus. One sometimes wonders if Britain was indeed the nation that introduced Christianity to Nigeria, not least because the life of the typical Briton is no longer dominated by religion.
I think I have a perspective into the Christian religion as is currently practised in Nigeria and this perspective came from a discussion with a Nigerian lady who once told me that “people have their different reasons for going to church”. I tried to argue that there is only one universal reason why people should go to church, to worship God and assimilate the Christian culture and that the blessings of the Lord, either here or in heaven, come with devotion to the cause. Wanting to win an election, or wanting to be rich, should not be the motivating factor for wanting to go to church. Unfortunately, the Nigerian lady was talking from experience which, in itself, explains why many Nigerians have become vulnerable to exploitation in the hands of fake pastors who claim to have divine power for all sorts of problems. They stage-manage miracles, fooling man and testing the patience of God
The Nigerian early Churches were what the Church still is in some societies. The priest prays with and for the congregation without claiming to have the power to reveal what lies ahead. Many Nigerians want to know what the future holds for them and they also seek miracles. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that some Nigerians phone their pastors back home in Nigeria asking to be prayed for so that their visas can be extended here in Britain? We are a people cocooned in ignorance and that is the major problem.
The Christian Church has impacted greatly on Nigeria, especially the southern part of it. Of course, Christianity came with colonisation but the society in general has not been the worse for it. The achievements of the early missionaries are well documented and such achievements can be seen in the areas of education and health. It can be said without much contradiction that Christianity has contributed substantially to the foundation of our society.
The Church continues to play a prominent part in development. Even a few recent churches have established universities of relatively good quality. The Church must continue to make its presence felt in areas of community development, as well as in improving the morals of our peoples. The Nigerian nation, sadly, is one of the most corrupt in the world – something of an irony for a nation which undoubtedly is also one of the most religious. The Church, therefore, has an ideological responsibility to engage in the war against corruption and a moral one to discourage materialism and ostentatious living which Jesus Christ so much detested in the predispositions of the Pharisees.
Is the perception of the Christian Church as a vanguard of morality well represented by pastors flying all over the place in private jets while most of their flock go about hungry and bare footed? I tried to appraise the issue of some Nigerian pastors and their private jets with an open mind – bad roads and long distances to travel – but a British theologian seemed to have convinced me that “it is not the way to propagate the gospel”. The trend we are witnessing is tailored towards the culture of those boisterous American pastors who tend to explain every big thing they have – houses, cars and yachts – as the favour of God. They feed fat while their followers grow thin. It will be sad if Nigerians now aspire to the leadership of the Church, as they do in politics, solely because it is perceived as an avenue to affluence and flamboyance.
Akinola sent this article via firstname.lastname@example.org