“Religion is the opium of the masses” – Karl Max (1843)
This popular quote still resonates deeply even after the creator has exited the grand theatre of life, succeeded by generations of philosophers, critical thinkers, and religious leaders in their large numbers, preaching different messages in varying styles. Interestingly, the antics or operational styles of these shepherds of the flock have increasingly validated the assertion by Marx years even before they were born.
Religion in the past has continued to evolve and taking on different identities and perspectives; mostly financially and politically influenced. While the attention and affection of the flock for the more recognized religions continues to wane in Europe, America, and other climes, same cannot be said for Africa as their seems to be a revitalization, thirst and energy for the things of God.
As the continent continues to grapple with economic challenges, high maternal and child mortality, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, bad leadership, eye-popping levels of corruption and many other evils that have turned most countries in Africa into perpetually ‘developing nations’, the poor masses (and amazingly even the seemingly wealthy ones) have found absolute solace in religion.
Common sense in many cases has taken the back bench, people now seek for the most mundane of solutions in the churches and mosques, as well as other prayer houses. Miracles have become a benchmark for the the assessment of the ‘strength’ of Pastors and Imams who have evolved into demi-gods capable of issuing life-changing spiritual instructions, the result of which could either be negative or positive.
The power wielded by religious leaders oftentimes loaded with more gravity and adhered to by the faithful even ahead of the civil or political leadership. Many, out of economic frustrations have found a highly rewarding career in the religious space.
In Nigeria and many other African countries, sermons in religious houses have gradually developed a new trajectory, now follow a newly charted course where salvation and simply being good is now secondary to being prosperous; a total deviation from the progenitors of the different faiths we profess.
Perhaps, most worrisome is the unbridled display of of wealth by religious leaders, ironically in the midst of the poverty and squalor that stares us all in the face. It is not out of place for pastors to fly round the world in private jets, stay in five star hotels while on evangelism while many of their followers can hardly afford the basic necessities of life.
The issues being thrown up here are generally not new. Severally, social media has thrown up the discourse with arguments from both sides of the divide while interestingly, those who are at the center of it all are deliberately quiet and watching from a distance.
Personally, I have an innate respect for religious leaders regardless of their faith or denomination but the question must be asked; how do we start separating RELIGION from SPIRITUALITY. Many have completely spiraled out of control and resorted to blind trust in the religious institutions, the ability to reason in the face of day-to-day challenges has taken the back bench as people resort to spiritual warfare against the most trivial things, children respect Pastors and Imams ahead of their parents, couples turn against each other merely by following unfounded spiritual advice by their religious mentors.
The problem has attained monstrous proportions as the machinery of the state has also became a willing partaker in the slave and master relationship between cleric and follower. Politicians, regardless of their stature or influence are mere kittens in the hallowed presence of the religious leader. Both are engaged in a deceptive romance enabled by selective reasoning, allowing for a dangerously steeped relationship where one says “go” and the other must simply go! Needless to say that in this case, the relationship is kept very vibrant and thriving with enormous amounts of cash gifts and other material gifts such as houses and exotic cars.
Suddenly, it is upon us. The world order has changed…at least clearly in this parts. The man standing on the pulpit suddenly wields more power and influence more than ever before, so much that he is able to make the man with the gun come running, tail between legs, whimpering and grovelling for divine help and direction.
I have fears as to what this can birth but I have not the faintest idea of what exactly it would be, but I know it doesn’t bode well for all of us. We see it everyday, we live with it, some of us are actors in this play, yet we consciously tell ourselves that we are just doing what we should do.
Only time will tell, the opium is getting stronger!
Immanuel Odeyemi is a Journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. He tweets from @ImmanuelOnRadio