…Africa is reputedly the most religious continent in the world
A closer look however brings a bitter reality to the fore; that Africa is literally a dumpsite for religion. Mosques and churches compete for space. The churches mostly win. The attraction for Africa as a choice of place readily appears to be its growing population and fragility, but since most of these religions were introduced over one hundred years ago, could it have been something else, maybe a ploy to stifle growth using doctrines whose headquarters were in Europe?
Religion is like waste disposal. But even wastes are recycled to serve good purpose. The kind of waste that is dumped in Africa in the name of religion stays and lingers and eats into everything. When you advocate for a re-reading of the entire thing, you become an infidel. You’d have to wait for fifteen minutes at a reception of a public office for a praying worker who reported late to work. And the thief that just robbed you would remark ‘God bless you’ at the next turn. ‘To God be the Glory’ ends every Nollywood movie, including those that had the most grotesque sex scenes that God most likely won’t be happy with.
The continent is engulfed in religion and rather than enable it grow, it is the very agent of our regression. What vexes sleep is the way it is embraced to a fault and followed so blindly. There is little room for questioning and reasoning; whatever religion or its custodians (“the men of God”) say – without doubt or question – becomes law and it is almost impossible to make us see reason. What’s more, religion and politics have appeared to go hand in hand, and it has had the most dire consequences. The religious leaders have the population – since conveniently 80% of us are religion subscribers. And the population are the electorate. So, if the politicians appeal to a particular preacher and they are loved, they automatically win the support of their followers nationwide. It is business, and the religious leaders are the middlemen.
I have read from a lot of writers of African origin who believe that Africa’s progress would have been tremendous without religion, or maybe with a focus on the practices of the aboriginals. These writers might be genuinely concerned since they are the gatekeepers of a collective narrative. And truly, anyone who takes a closer look at Nigeria for example, will agree that people believe their pastors more than they believe what the doctors say. They obey a churchwarden more than the traffic light. And when things go bad, they are quick to blame anyone and anything but their incompetence and inability to deliver.
The corruption that has ravaged a place like Nigeria has not come from foreigners practically. It has been from the men and women who attend these places of worship. The teachers who demand bribe and sex from students do not worship outside this sphere. They are people whose faces are familiar. They are titleholders in the places of worship. They are the elders, deaconesses, and even founders of these places. It will therefore be easy to agree that maybe truly, religion has exploited the people and they do not even know it. Or, they know it, but are too docile to take action.
Writers, philosophers, scientists – practically anyone who generally thinks seem to be against organized religion for that sole vice of brainwashing its followers and of course, the attendant abandonment of common sense which should be vital. A doctor friend once complained on social media that he does his best to make sure his patients are healthy, but never gets the credit. He recalled once spending several hours in the theatre operating on a patient who later chose to go to her place of worship to appreciate the preacher for a job he – the doctor – spent hours doing.
Concerned Africans have observed Europe and how they have fared with little regards for religion even though they introduced it here. Technology and openness to a changing world has influenced development on all fronts. It en-cultures where it loses variety but Africa has long held tight to religion and its texts and given rethinking no opportunity. A friend remarked that if all the halls and auditoriums used as churches were converted to factories and start-up hubs maybe Africa too will move to colonize parts of the world someday. I may have added the colonization part myself, but you get the scope – Africa has a long way to go. We must consciously devise means of installing our values and checking the excesses of the religious institutions. If an Imam or Bishop is guilty of a crime, he has to be tried like every other person. When people make donations and their sources of living are not genuine, they could be reported. Religious systems must appreciate and invest in science and technology and not see it as a threat. That way we will make headway.
I found a tweet just recently, and it left me jaw dropped. “When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land”.
Its time to get this waste recycling underway.
Bura-Bari Nwilo writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness.