The Nigerian Paradox: A Country In Love With God But Practically Atheistic In Life-Style By Rev. Gerald Azike
These daily outward expressions of religious sentiments among Nigerians, reinforces the result of the ICM religious poll conducted by the BBC in February, 2004, where Nigeria was listed as the most religious country in the world. This is because over 90% of Nigerians in their answer said they were ready to die for their faith. The frequent religious-related public holidays that have marked our national work-year calendar are to be equaled only by a few other nations. The ubiquitous presence of many Mega Churches dotting our highways all join in singing a unified chorus of affirmation to this continuous religious identity-tag. In fact, the religious fervor as exuded by Nigerians, both in private and public life, can compete comfortably with that of the Cherubic and Seraphic Angels of God. Our politicians even before the results of elections are out rush to the Churches for thanksgiving. Ex-convicts have even the Churches as their first port of call upon their release and the list is endless.
Naturally, the corollary result of the above religious-oriented life is that Nigeria should be a progressive and a prosperous country since the lives of her citizens are per-second under the shadow of the Almighty God whose laws are surest ways to progress and success. His laws stipulate honesty, integrity, hard work, humility, value for life, due process, relative value of wealth and so on as their only identification. But a critical assessment of the lives of Nigerians bearing the above in mind brings to the fore a yawning gap between their religious identity, on the one hand, and their lifestyle as its effect, on the other. In fact, the apparent contradiction between the two is to such degree that Aristotle may be forced to have a rethink over his logical theory of “Causality” where effects are natural consequences of their causes. The divide between them almost dwarfs the distance between heaven and earth. The reason for this obvious enigma is that in Nigeria, people have domesticated religion to suit their whims. They have ingeniously revised the role of the biblical-creative God while they have created Him in their own images and likenesses. And like Pratogoras, they have re-invented the theory that “Man is the measure of all things” since they now fashion their own god. Of course, as expected, not every Nigerian is guilty of this divide between religious identity and contradictory lifestyle on the other. There are deeply religious people in Nigeria whose lives testify to their faith and religious belief. The unfortunate thing is that they are in minority.
In Nigeria, we have bleached out from our collective consciousness the true picture of God, in our attempt to shape a god according to our standards, who for us has now been recreated with a new identity in the nature of “wealth and possession.” In other words, as religious people which we purport to be, we have a god; but it is no more the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham or Muslim Allah with his demanding ideals but the “hedonistic god” of the Epicureans. In this way, we have banished from our societal life the real God or Allah to an “eternal holidays” and divinized “wealth and riches” as our new god. This displacement of the true God with “wealth and riches” naturally goes with a new moral code supplanting God’s original laws of honesty, integrity, contentment and likes with our “nigerianized invented laws of possession” summarized in the generic cliché “the Nigerian way”.
While often, many pastors are today using their pulpits to possess this our “homemade-god”(alias wealth), their church members on the other hand are turning their prayer crusades into miracle bonanzas all in search of the same god. The rich and the powerful are hankering after the same god who expresses himself also in the nature of prestige and honor through different titles given to them via the hallowed altars of God. The “Jerusalem and Mecca been-tos" are after their own god with their unnecessary fixations with the titles of ‘JP’s’ and ‘El-hajj’s.’ Our government officials are after their own god with their heartless pilfering of collective patrimony and at best, they hoodwink the citizenry by siphoning billions of dollars in the name of sponsorship of people for pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca in a country where lack of good roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, food and so on are crying out to heaven for vengeance. Even many of the pilgrims on their pilgrimage routes are known more for the amount of shopping they do in the high streets of Israel and perhaps Mecca than their religious decorum during the said pilgrimages.
Of course, all these goes to confirm, without doubt, the fact that wealth has been today enthroned as almighty-god in Nigeria. Yet, even Karl Marx who declared himself an atheist was able to decipher the extraneous nature of wealth in his Das Kapital and the possibility of its pursuit for simple reason of fancy. Our everyday actions have made us “practical atheists” since we have absolutized wealth which is only a temporal creation with a relative value. As Henri de Lubac argues, “we have made material riches object of our love in themselves, whereas they are only summons to their maker who is God.” We have exchanged God their creator for them. And this life-style is atheistic no matter how we try to vaunt our religious pedigree. It is so because in principle, it is an affirmation of the eternity of temporality. It is a lifestyle that surreptitiously declares the earth as the end of all with its material riches as the ultimate goal. As Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes says, “the word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another…. Moreover, atheism results …from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God”. A thorough examination of our lives as Nigerians will surely show to any discerning honest mind that wealth is our “human made god” and religion is the handmaid through which this god is delivered either directly or indirectly to us his worshipers.
One consequence of this lifestyle is that it replicates the Hobbesian state of nature where difference between human beings and material objects are blurred. Both are seen only as a means to an end since each one’s value is dependent upon the amount of economic benefit one delivers to the table. In other words, one’s neighbor is as good as his goat. The result of this is seen every day on our streets where human lives have been cheapened in so many ways for the sake of wealth and possession. This servitude to riches is a far cry from what God’s expects of us as the right attitude to wealth. As Robert Krieg argues, true freedom is not only negative absence of external constraint but positive recognition of hierarchy of objects and their values. And wealth and possession being a creation has a secondary value and cannot be absolute no matter how we think we need them. Thus Søren Kierkegaard argues that the crowd is untrue and there is a need for everyone as an individual to separate himself or herself from this mad rush for material possession to ask oneself the hard questions of life and its meaning. We cannot cower under the impulse of consumerism since we are not beasts. In nature, we are defined by our being rather than by our having and we can only worship the real God in truth when we give wealth and possession their relative value. God bless you.
Rev. Gerald Azike (Rome)
email@example.com, twitter: @azike_gerald