How Nigeria Is Being Destroyed By Religion

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Any society that prioritises ignorance will fail to live up to its potential.That was the crux of  Damola Awoyokun’s piece “The Next Einstein and the Expressway Churches” published in The Guardian of  May 22. In contemporary Nigeria, the miracle-hawking Pentecostal churches are the bastions of the  crude tendency to ignorance. For them, God is Mr. Fix-It-All who will descend in full glory to solve  all our personal and national problems. Consequently, diseases are cured not by demanding for a  well-equipped public health care system and functioning research laboratories but by prayers.

Accidents are prevented not by good motorways, effective traffic policing, and sane road habits but by  prayers. Examinations are passed not by diligent study but by praying.

Armed robbery attacks are foiled not by a revamped police force and the provision of enough jobs for  the unemployed but with prayers. What these churches find primary is being dabbed on the head with  anointing oil by pastors speaking with false American accents, with each pastor clad in a designer  suit and wearing a gold wristwatch that costs more than the average monthly income of his impoverished  congregation. Seek ye first the anointing oil of a prosperity preacher and every other thing shall be  added: this is the prevailing creed.

Mention must also be made of how these establishments encourage corruption by placing the tags of  miracles on suddenly-acquired wealth. Questions are not asked about the provenance of the riches, as  evidenced by the recent case of an employee who looted money from the coffers of his workplace, an  upscale hotel in Victoria Island, and donated it to one of the more visible miracle churches in Lagos.  The only thing that matters is the paying of one’s tithe, even from fraudulent funds. Obviously, when  a delusion afflicts a sizable chunk of the population, people tend to forget it is a psychosis and  they begin calling it a religion. A delusion though remains a delusion even when championed by  millions of believers. Remember: the fact that millions once believed the earth was flat did not make  it less spherical.

Regrettably, Jude Fashagba’s piece “Einstein and the People of Faith” published in The Guardian on  Sunday of June 1 failed to engage with these

relevant issues. Rather than writing a worthwhile response to Mr. Awoyokun’s submission, Mr. Fashagba  preoccupied himself with stringing together  disconnected and evasive sentences. Resorting to such a  stratagem is the only option when one has a bad product to sell, and there are few products less  marketable than Mr. Fashagba’s pitch that science and faith are not oppositional. Science foregrounds  observable evidence as it is basis for understanding the world; faith, in contrast, privileges the  unquestioning adherence to a body of received claims even when unsupported by evidence.

A committee of the National Academy of Sciences recently said “the goal of science is to seek  naturalistic explanations for phenomena… within the operational rule of testability” while St. Paul  wrote in the Book of Hebrews that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of  things not seen.” Anyone who fails to see a fundamental difference in both approaches needs to get  himself a better education. Science is a continuous process of empirical inquiry, not a static body of  knowledge. That is why there is something known as the scientific method. Science does not fear change  because its method is served, not compromised, by new insights;religion, on the other hand, finds  nothing more frightening than new ways of thinking which it labels heresy. Those who revised Dalton’s  atomic theory were not burnt at the stake by scientists; prelates of the medieval Church murdered  Giordano Bruno for querying the validity of their theology. It is because of this open-mindedness that  science has explained and predicted the universe better than any religion and, despite the  lamentations of people like Mr. Fashagba, will continue to do so.

Since Jude Fashagba is a staunch believer in miracles, he could consider it a major miracle that his  write-up did not choke on the barrage of its diversionary questions. The Bible teacher wondered if  Albert Einstein was the atheist he was “painted” to be. It is on record that Einstein considered all  religions to be childish superstitions. The scientist wrote: “The word god is for me nothing more than  the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still  primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can  change this.”

Attempting to exhaustively answer Jude Fashagba’s avalanche of questions would only succeed in  dignifying his pathetic redherrings. He could spend his time more profitably in researching answers to  his endless questions rather than indulging in the voyeuristic sport of “googling” out Mr. Awoyokun’s  name on the internet. And what connection does a person’s accomplishment have with the validity of his  or her statements? It is instructive to remember the case of James D. Watson, a Nobel Prize winner in  Medicine, who was fired from his prestigious position in 2007 after making racist statements that  lacked any scientific backing about the intelligence of black people. Perceptive human beings know how  to separate a person from the validity of his or her assertions. Clearly, Mr. Fashagba is not so  discerning.

At this juncture in our national life when Nigeria is troubled by a myriad of social and economic  problems, what the citizens need is clear-sighted reasoning and not mystical abracadabras. In the  decades during which religious fervour has gained ascendancy in Nigeria, it has become obvious that  blind faith is creating more problems rather than solving the ones on ground. Witness the routine  traffic hell caused on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by the Pentecostal business centres situated along  the route. And the ongoing case of Pastor King. And the Miss World and the Danish cartoon riots. And  many other cases too numerous to list. Religions do not encourage reasoning; instead they promote  rationalisation, something entirely different.

This was why St. Augustine, a prominent theologian of the Church, said: “I believe so that I can  understand.” Blind faith comes first and then justifications for it follow. For the centuries Europe  followed that precept, its citizens were locked in the Dark Ages, and only when the Renaissance

ruptured that dogmatic mode did Europe begin making intellectual progress. In the liberal era of  Averroes, Al-Razi, and Avicenna, learning was far more advanced in the Islamic world than in the West;  not until religious suffocation came in the wake of Al-Ghazali’s attacks on rationalism did that  civilisation fall way behind. The fate of the forerunner who tumbled into a pit should suffice to  instruct those coming behind, says an African proverb. In relation to the matter at hand, one can only  hope it does.

Jude Fashagba should be advocating the entrenchment of a logical and evidential attitude in the  decision making process of Nigerians, both in our personal and public lives, not the opposite. We are  bored with seeing political figures consecrated in public by religious leaders, only for us to watch  in horror as these public officers go ahead to spend eight years looting the treasuries and committing  atrocious human rights abuses.

Mr. Fashagba is also an architect. I hope he does not believe that the epidemic of collapsed buildings  in Lagos was caused by the machinations of evil spirits. If he does, it will be of great relief to all  if he restricts himself to designing his personal residence and to his other profession of Bible  teaching.

In his second calling, he could promise his congregation a thousand miracles and deliver zero. None of  his credulous flock would find it necessary to bring him to book.

—R. Babatunde & Kola Afolabi

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