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‘In Jesus Name!’ On Religious Excuse and Christianity

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‘I heard you have a vibrant Christianity and are very religious people. But I heard it’s a very corrupt country. How do you manage both poles?’

Religion, despite the ups and downs that make up its history, remains decisive in the world. In Nigeria, religion is not just decisive. It decides things that become decisive. Every single facet of the normality and abnormality of the country has religious patch all over it. 

From the ear-piercing speakers that startle you off your bed with a call to prayer or repentance, the very TV evenings meant to tune off the day’s hassle, but has been hijacked by the numerous ‘preach-tainments’, miracle performers and promoters of religiousnisms, to the unknown Facebook user threatening you to type ‘Amen’ to everything he posts if you are not the devil himself. In Nigeria, if it is any type of religious construct and ideal, name it, you have it. Why do I get twitchy when religious issue is raised in the context of Nigeria?

I will solely argue from Christian perspective. It is my hearty religion and the one I feel most adequate to criticize any abuse that hides under its cloak. 

I was trying to distract myself during the break period of intensive hours of meetings, when a German lady approached me. ‘So you are a Nigerian.’ It was more of an insinuation than a remark. ‘I heard you have a vibrant Christianity and are very religious people.’ I smiled in approval. She released a straight puff of her cigarette, bit her tongue, and continued. ‘But I heard it’s a very corrupt country. How do you manage both poles?’ I philosophized. I could not even convince myself with my excuses, much less her critical mind. There is a sense in which Christianity has been attached to positivity and its developments. That is why it makes headlines when a representative of the religion does something wrong, even though many others might be doing the same thing, unnoticed.

The crux of the matter is: In Nigeria, Christianity has become a viable means of excuse to mediocrity, indifference, and retrogression, instead of a reason to excellence and integrity, orderliness and progress. Ask your sick neighbor whether he or she has being to the hospital, the answers will stun you, ranging from ‘God win oo’ to ‘the bible says, it shall be well with the righteous. It is well.’ The student does not study well, because he/she spent most of the time in prayers or he/she waits on a miracle. 

After all, her pen and paper have been covered by the blood of Christ, and the examiner has been arrested by the Holy Spirit. What about the knowledge he/she was supposed to have, in order to treat a patient well, repair a car well, or do his job well? Would that knowledge coming in magically too? The healthy young man would despise you if you advise him to spend some of the time he spends in the church, working or looking for a job. You will probably become the ‘unholy’ priest.

The ‘religious excuse syndrome’ seems vivid in the cases of sudden wealth that happen in Nigeria. Someone wins a political post, contract, or election, then he is religiously justified and absolved of every religious guilt if he spends part of the money either on the pastor or church project, leaving the social and economic projects the money was meant for uncompleted or even untouched. How did our own chapter of Christianity get this twisted?

The West has being ruling this world since Christianity dawned on it; a controversial but indisputable reality. Whether in positive or negative sequence, the West sets the standard, the rest of us struggle to attain it. This ‘standard position’ of the West is unimaginable without its Christian historical foundations. Many German universities, for one, were founded by the church. They excelled not just in theology and philosophy but in every other academic aspect of humanities and science. Guess who were foundations of this academic excellence? Priests! 

They were the educators, scientists, disciplinarians, etc. In other words, it was Christianity that built the nation, and other western nations, to its standard height. Although, the West may not serve as model with regards to the religious constellations of Christianity, but do not suppose the decline of church structural Christianity to mean that they have become ‘irreligious’ and that the church is not responsible for anything again. They have, for some historical and social reasons, a different religious consciousness and the church is still decisive and indispensable in many facets of the nation’s structure. 

They very social structures of the western world are products of the church’s social teachings and structure. The decisive and important system of social welfare and insurance, health system, educational system, and indeed all other pillar systems of the society. The church is the second employer in Germany. The church runs most kindergartens and some schools. The aged? What can Germany do without the church with regards to taken care of the old and needy and every other charitable work? Of course, everything is not perfect in the West, but, as my learned friend would whisper to me, ‘our people have sucked out all the juice of Christianity and now they feel what is left of it now is a disposable chaff. That’s why they still hold on to its social structures but no longer its religious principles.’

My point is: How and why would Christianity be the reason for this standard position of the West but an excuse for mediocrity and retrogression in Nigeria’s case? I know that some syncretistic reasons on the socio-cultural friction of Christianity and traditional religious concepts have major roles to play on this issue, yet when are we going to start enjoying the ‘juice’ of the religion?  When would our Christianity be used to manifest the human capacities in us instead of leaving it for and waiting on God to do things he has already giving us the limitless wherewithal to accomplish?

I visited a priest friend who rectors what used to be a notorious school at Aba: Sacred Heart College, alias SAHACO. The state of that school before he came in was indescribable. There was nothing, not one single thing that should be in school, which was there. No path to walk on, no classrooms that could described correctly as such, no system at all. That school represented perfectly many others of its kind and the state of government educational system in Nigeria. 

When the politics of Nigeria rubbed the church the responsibility of education and even medical attention, it condemned the nation to generational mediocrity and quack products; a lacuna that may not be filled again. We had the generation of my fathers who struggled to reach the famous ‘standard six’, but write and speak on a noveau that our present graduates struggle to keep up with. These were the areas that could have standardized Nigeria as a nation, the juice of the religion, and the reasons to excellence. 

Like my priest friend revealed, within the space of two years that the government abandoned the school again into the hands of the church, a story of its own pedigree, SAHACO is gaining attention again. The school’s Old Boys came to visit with gratitude and support, confessing how they have been ashamed all this while to reveal that the school was their alma mater. Parents and guardians who have seen this juice of the religion are bringing their children and pleading for admission.

It is not just about church having schools to manage; after all, the plethora of churches and ministries in Nigeria, lining up in our towns like stalls in a market, have schools as addendum to their enterprises and yet the nation wallows in educational malaise. It is about the totality of up-bringing that challenges the person to search for knowledge/solutions with his head and heart, to be realistic and not live in fantasy. Your religiousness should boost your relevance to humanity and the world, and not estrange you from your reality.

Kezito C. Nweke


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